Posts Categorized: Araminta Freedom Initiative

A backpack can stop trafficking

kids with backpacks running to school with text overlay, Araminta has reached a place where there is tremendous need for our programs and servicesA few weeks ago, our staff looked at a table overflowing with backpacks. Gifted from volunteers, representing our partner churches, these backpacks were lovingly filled with school supplies that represent hope, prevention, and redemption. As we watched mentees and their children strap on those packs, our hearts overflowed.

You see in 2011, one who sought to lure children into sex trafficking used similar backpacks. As children in Baltimore City were walking to school on the first day of classes, those without any supplies were approached with an offer of a new backpack in exchange for their exploitation.

Five years later, this is Araminta: Bridging the gap, to link the Church and the community, to bring beauty and redemption. As we continue to fill in the gaps, Araminta has arrived at a time and place where there is tremendous need for our programs and services. In this school year as we launch our prevention and intervention pilot program in three school districts, we know the need will only continue to expand.

Because of this demand, our efforts have been focused on growing the organization as much as possible. Financially this has put us in a difficult catch-up mode, but also gives us the confidence and conviction that we are making a real difference in the lives of survivors with whom we are working.

However, we are facing an urgent financial need. We are looking to close a financial gap of $20,000.

Would you be willing to make a special, one-time gift to Araminta? Your gift of $50, $100, $250, or $500 will help secure us for the remainder of the year. A few of our giving partners have generously committed to a $10,000 match. Your gift will have DOUBLE the impact and help us quickly reach our $20,000 goal.

By meeting this goal in the next four weeks, we will be able to focus our year-end efforts in preparation for exciting expansion and greater services in 2017. Thank you for considering joining us for now, so that we may continue to move toward the future, telling more “backpack” stories of hope and new life.

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What is Independence Day to One who is not Free?

What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July?

 I answer: a day that reveals to him,
more than all other days in the year,
the gross injustice and cruelty
to which he is the constant victim. …

–Frederick Douglass (July 5, 1852)

As we celebrate this 4th of July and the ideals of freedom and liberty that this country embodies, may we remember that there is much work yet to be done.

“Freedom” does not look the same for every citizen of this nation. And certainly for those being trafficked this day, there is no holiday nor celebration of their individual freedom.

In the “Land of the Free,” too many of our children find themselves in the modern-day slavery we call human trafficking.

To be sure, there are distinctions between the slavery of the 1800s and that which exists today, but Frederick Douglass’ speech on “What to the Slave is the 4th of July” still resonates today:

…Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice are not enjoyed in common. … You may rejoice, I must mourn.

…Standing with God and the crushed and bleeding slave on this occasion, I will, in the name of humanity which is outraged, in the name of liberty which is fettered, in the name of the Constitution and the Bible which are disregarded and trampled upon, dare to call in question and to denounce, with all the emphasis I can command, everything that serves to perpetuate slavery…!

Thirteen years later, Douglass spoke prophetically about the importance of continuing anti-slavery work even after its “official” end, saying,

They would not call it ‘slavery’, but some other name. Slavery has been fruitful in giving itself names… and it will call itself by yet another name; and you and I and all of us had better wait and see what new form this old monster will assume…

A century-and-a-half later, we celebrate this Independence Day, knowing there are still those within our borders who are not free. On this day of celebrating, may you take time to reflect on the immeasurable distance between us and those who are still enslaved.

On this day of celebrating, won’t you take a moment to Give Freedom, helping us move one step closer to making freedom for all a reality? Your support of our prevention, intervention and survivor services enables us to take these steps closer to freedom:

  • Training of new mentors this August to meet the ever-increasing number of referrals to our mentoring program for survivors and at-risk youth
  • Supporting our first Open Table to surround a survivor on her journey of restoration
  • Pursuing opening of the first specialized home in Maryland for victims who are minors

Won’t you help us give freedom?

Do More 24, and support our DC-metro-area efforts

Over the past year, we have been getting more referrals and doing more trainings in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. To that end, we are happy to participate in the DC region’s “Do More 24” Giving Day campaign Thursday, June 2.

Do More is an annual 24-hour fundraiser that is powered by United Way of the National Capital Area. Please donate today at the link below and share with your friends and family why you believe in our work so they can help us see Every Child Free From Human Trafficking:

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The Personalization and Modern Application of Passover

Four Cups Exodus 6 6 to7 freedomDuring this Passover season, believers are called not only to a remembrance of the Exodus from Egypt, but to a modern-day and personal connection:

Passover is rich in social justice themes. It is impossible to study the story of our redemption and not feel compelled to eradicate injustice in the world today. …

Torah commands us to teach our children, “It is because of what God did for me when I went forth from Egypt,” creating an immediate connection between the text and our lives today. (Pesach: A Season for Justice)

Through commemoration of the exodus, we are reminded of our status as strangers in the land. By placing ourselves into the story, we are challenged to remember what it was to be slaves and what God’s deliverance has meant for us. We also are challenged to see the ways in which slavery continues to exist, and to wrestle with modern-day injustice, oppression, and slavery.

The United Jewish Communities Rabbinic Cabinet’s “Matzah of Unity” reading reflects on some of the Passover elements and the connection to be drawn to our many obligations to work toward a better world:

…We dip into the salt water of tears — and remind ourselves to care for the oppressed.

We eat the bitter herbs — and sharpen our concern for the stranger.

We taste the matzah, the bread of affliction — and feel the memories of our servitude to Pharaoh.

We note the roasted egg, symbolic of the extra offering in the Temple in ancient days — and ask ourselves, what are our own sacrifices?

Passover is so real and tangible, because we not only taste our freedom, but we also resolve to work for the liberation of all people. It is a time to ask ourselves: what are we doing to care for those in need? …

While observance of Passover varies from household to household, there are some common observances that hold particular poignancy as we reflect on modern-day slavery.

Bread of Affliction

The reading concerning the Bread of Affliction not only provides the primary textual inspiration for feeding the hungry during Passover, but also calls for an end to slavery, which continues to exist around the world in various forms. It prompts diverse communities to join together, recognizing the common experience of slavery.

As we recall the scarcity for those fleeing Egypt, taking only what they could carry, including bread unleavened because there was not time to thoroughly prepare it, we are reminded of those fleeing modern-day slavery with only the clothes on their back, and their similar need for provisions today!

Four Cups of Wine

The four cups are derived from four expressions of redemption found in Exodus 6:6-7:

  1. “I will bring you out;”
  2. “I will deliver you;”
  3. “I will redeem you;” and
  4. “I will take you.”

Note the positive, redemptive focus of each phrase! Rabbis for Human Rights suggests the following four interpretations for the four cups:

  1. The First Cup: Freedom [within an adopted home]
  2. The Second Cup: Deliverance [in one’s promised home]
  3. The Third Cup: Redemption from Overwork and Underwork
  4. The Fourth Cup: Liberation from Slavery All Over the World

As we celebrate this Holy Week, let us not neglect its Passover roots and the call for us to deeply personalize God’s work of redemption. As we commemorate God’s deliverance of His people from Egypt, let us ask why so many people are still enslaved today, and what our role is in recognizing this reality and working to end it. Let us see in ourselves and everyone we encounter the image of God in which He created us, and do all in our power to see it fully restored.

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Taking a critical look at ourselves this Palm Sunday

Palm SundayIt can seem strange celebrating Palm Sunday sometimes, knowing that by the end of the week, these same people that hailed Jesus as king and celebrated and welcomed him to Jerusalem would call for his death.

It can teach us a lot about ourselves, however, if we are only willing to take that critical look.

It reminds us at Araminta of that part of our mission statement that challenges “each individual to recognize their personal contribution to a culture that distorts human dignity and worth.”

As we take a teachable heart posture, may we see in ourselves both those who welcome and those with the potential to be too easily swayed by the surrounding culture.

May we recommit, then, to seeing each person with the worth and dignity that God bestowed upon them, not allowing any distorted vision to interfere with this.

May we continue to shout “Hosanna” and open our arms, even when the world tells us there is nothing to celebrate nor welcome.

May we see the possibility of restoration for all, even as our Lord did.

May we see the HOPE of Easter morning even as we walk through the darkness that precedes it.

Testimony on Behalf of Expanded Vacatur Bill

Following is written testimony presented for hearings held March 8 and 10, 2016, in favor of expanding Maryland’s “vacating convictions” law, as it related to human trafficking:

On behalf of Araminta Freedom Initiative, I submit this testimony in support of SB 866 / HB 623 and respectfully urge a favorable report.

As a service provider for survivors of child sex trafficking and a member of the Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force, we know that too often victims continue to be criminalized as a result of being forced to engage in various activities for the financial benefit of their traffickers. This criminal record produces continued obstacles in obtaining employment, housing, education, and other critical services to full recovery and successful reintegration into mainstream society.

These obstacles for survivors of trafficking keep them trapped in poverty and vulnerable to continued exploitation, with them the additional risk of continued exploitation by a trafficker or the inability to exit the commercial sex trade. Survivors who were unjustly convicted of forced criminal activity deserve better.

This is why it is so important to expand Maryland’s “vacating convictions” law through the passage of SB 866 / HB 623. In 2011, Maryland led the way, becoming the second state in the country to enact such a law, but we have learned much since that early action

Over the past four years, Maryland’s vacatur law has proved inadequate in meeting the needs of Maryland’s survivors, the majority of whom have trafficking-related convictions other than prostitution, such as trespassing and drug possession. Additionally, Maryland is one of only two states in the country requiring the consent of the agency that prosecuted the victim before the victim can file a vacatur request.

SB 866 / HB 623 would remedy these significant legal gaps by expanding the post-conviction relief available to survivors of human trafficking who are already recognized as lacking the criminal intent to commit the crimes they were convicted of.

It is critical that we not only increase the number of convictions eligible for vacatur under MD Crim. Pro § 8-302, but also expand the impact of the law by explicitly including labor trafficking survivors, as well.

Araminta Freedom Initiative supports this bill because it will enhance the effectiveness of Maryland’s human trafficking framework by improving access to justice for survivors who have been criminalized as a result of their involvement with a trafficker.

We continue to do harm to survivors through lack of resources, recognition of violence

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of Maryland, press release issued following his initial trial in 2013,

Jeremy Naughton, a/k/a “Jerms Black,” age 32, of Brooklyn, New York, [was sentenced by U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz] to 36 years in prison, followed by five years of supervised release, for conspiring to commit sex trafficking, four counts of sex trafficking, six counts of transporting an individual to engage in prostitution and using a gun during the conspiracy to commit sex trafficking.

It was the “using a gun during the conspiracy to commit sex trafficking” part that landed Naughton back in front of Judge Motz on the afternoon of February 16, 2016.

The original 36-year sentence was a combination of a 29-year sentence for the trafficking- and prostitution-related offenses, in addition to a 7-year sentence for violating a federal statute, known as section 924(c), prohibiting “possession and use of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence.”

Last August, however, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit (of which Maryland is a part), overturned a similar 924(c) conviction, writing that it was “not persuaded that the ordinary case of sex trafficking by force, fraud, or coercion involves a substantial risk that the defendant will use physical force as a means to commit the offense.”

In other words, the Court did not find that sex trafficking, in and of itself, was a “crime of violence.”

Given the Court of Appeals decision, Naughton was scheduled for resentencing to determine whether the additional 7 years related to “using a gun during the conspiracy to commit sex trafficking” would stand. In the end, it did not, and the resentencing actually resulted in an even greater reduction in sentence, from the original 36 years to 22.

Naughton addressed the court, and the judge seemed convinced that he was taking advantage of the programming available to him through the Bureau of Prisons and stood before the court these 2½ years later a different man.

Since there is simply no way to tell for sure in such a brief encounter in a courtroom the extent of authentic change, the reader is welcome to draw their own conclusions, but what did seem a sad irony is the vast gulf between services available to those convicted of the crime of sex trafficking and those who are their victims.

We have come a long way in our desire to treat victims of sex trafficking as just that – victims – instead of criminalizing them. The noble intent of that is to provide wrap-around services to support survivors as they work to rebuild their lives.

The sad reality is that there are not enough services, and very little funding to support the services that do exist.

Through the Bureau of Prisons, Naughton has access to counseling and psychological services, medical services, postsecondary education, and specialized programming to address his individual needs. All of this is good. After all, one of Araminta’s core values is that the restoration of all individuals involved in sex trafficking is possible. This restoration, however, does not come at the expense of consequences for one’s actions.

What is untenable is that Naughton’s victims – more than 10 of whom testified at his trial – do not have access to these same kinds of services. As public awareness about this issue has increased and coordination efforts have improved, the number of victims identified by members of the Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force Victims Services Subcommittee has only increased. What has not changed in this same time is the amount of services available, nor the funding to support such services.

Laws have been passed in the Maryland General Assembly, but primarily having to do with criminal penalties.

When asset forfeiture was proposed, it was seen as a way to support law enforcement and victim services efforts related to trafficking, but when it passed in 2013, it was without specific instructions as to how the seized assets of convicted traffickers should be distributed. Only Howard County has specifically designated a portion to victim services as of this past year.

Last year, the General Assembly established a working group to consider Safe Harbor laws intended to address the inconsistent treatment of child victims and ensure that they are provided appropriate services and not criminalized.

This would be a major step toward better protecting our children and providing for the specialized services survivors of trafficking require, but despite having recommendations from the working group, it looks like yet another session will pass without any such legislation.

While convicted traffickers are able to choose from a variety of services to try to get their lives together, the reality in Maryland is that those same opportunities are not afforded to the victims of these traffickers. And time is not on our side. While convicted traffickers have years to transform into contributing members of society, their victims have to figure that out now in the midst of trauma, triggering events, navigating complex systems, and so much more.

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Baltimore Sun Op-Ed: Md. must act to end trafficking of our children

Read full Op-Ed on The Baltimore Sun’s site…

In 2014, members of the Victim Services Subcommittee of the state’s Human Trafficking Task Force identified and provided services to 396 victims of human trafficking here in Maryland. Of those, 381 were victims of sex trafficking, with 373 being U.S. citizens. Of those whose ages were reported, more than half were children.

Through increased awareness and training, we are able to identify and serve more human trafficking survivors each year, but more needs to be done….

Now that the Maryland General Assembly has begun its 2016 session, we call on members to act on the recommendations of the work group and pass Safe Harbor laws to better protect our children and provide for the specialized services survivors of trafficking require….Op Ed

Just last month, we commemorated the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the 13th amendment, which officially outlawed slavery in the United States. What should have been a celebration was tempered by the fact that modern-day slavery still exists, despite its official prohibition, in the form of human trafficking….

As President Barack Obama put it in a presidential proclamation recognizing January as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month: “The bitter fact remains that millions of men, women, and children around the globe, including here at home, are subject to modern-day slavery: the cruel, inhumane practice of human trafficking.”

Beginning this National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, let us truly work toward that prevention the month calls us to, and not simply “awareness.” Let us commit to continuing this legacy of ordinary people changing the course of history and finally bringing an end to slavery in all of its forms.

Baltimore County Prevention Month Proclamation

Baltimore County Executive Proclamation
designating January 2016
Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month

Church engagement team volunteers display Baltimore County proclamation

As the Church Engagement Team met in Baltimore County, some members took the opportunity to display the County Executive’s Human Trafficking Awareness Month proclamation.

WHEREAS, more than a century and half ago, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing thousands of slaves in the United States; and

WHEREAS, slavery throughout different parts of the world remains a large problem today, with millions still in bondage, working for little to no pay; and

WHEREAS, Baltimore County seeks to promote fairness, equality, and human rights for everyone; and

WHEREAS, Baltimore County is home to an innumerable amount of people who work tirelessly, committed to ending the evils of modern-day slavery; and

WHEREAS, Baltimore County is in the fight against slavery by combatting the underlying forces that lead to forced labor such as prostitution, child abuse, and other degrading practices; and
WHEREAS, slavery and human trafficking can be fought by anyone by speaking out against this terrible practice and speaking on behalf of victims from around the globe; and

WHEREAS, “Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month” is celebrated throughout the world by nations, cities, and individuals dedicated to the promotion of human rights and to the eradication of modern-day slavery:

NOW, THEREFORE, I, Kevin Kamenetz, as County Executive of Baltimore County, do hereby proclaim January 2016 as “SLAVERY AND HUMAN TRAFFICKING PREVENTION MONTH” in Baltimore County, and do commend this observance to all citizens with appropriate programs, ceremonies and activities.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Great Seal of Baltimore County to be affixed this first day of January in the year two thousand sixteen.

Baltimore City Prevention Month Proclamation

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake
Designating January 2016
“Slavery & Human Trafficking Prevention Month”
In Baltimore

Iona Rudisill, Program Operations Manager, Baltimore Child Abuse Center (and Araminta board member); Lori Lickstein, SART (Sexual Assault Response Team) and Human Trafficking Coordinator, Mayor's Office on Criminal Justice; and Alicia McDowell, Executive Director, Araminta Freedom Initiative with Baltimore City proclamation

Iona Rudisill, Program Operations Manager, Baltimore Child Abuse Center (and Araminta board member); Lori Lickstein, SART (Sexual Assault Response Team) and Human Trafficking Coordinator, Mayor’s Office on Criminal Justice; and Alicia McDowell, Executive Director, Araminta Freedom Initiative with Baltimore City proclamation

WHEREAS, this month is dedicated to raising awareness about sexual slavery and human trafficking worldwide; human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery in which traffickers use force, fraud, or coercion to control victims for the purpose of engaging in commercial sex acts or labor services against his/her will; and

WHEREAS, there are 21-30 million people in slavery today; this is more than at any time in human history; and

WHEREAS, every year, human traffickers generate billions of dollars in profits by victimizing millions of people in the United States and around the world; and

WHEREAS, despite growing awareness about this crime, human trafficking continues to go unreported due to its covert nature, misconceptions about its definition, and lack of awareness about its indicators; and

WHEREAS, the City of Baltimore joins the Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force and the Araminta Freedom Initiative in their dedication to awaken, equip, and mobilize our community to dismantle slavery and sex trafficking in the Baltimore region.

THEREFORE, I, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Mayor of the City of Baltimore, do hereby proclaim January 2016, as “Slavery & Human Trafficking Prevention Month” in Baltimore, and do urge all citizens to join in this observance.

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set the Great Seal of the City of Baltimore to be affixed this eleventh day of January, two thousand sixteen.